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eren and taxi

Berlin Dispatch: Turkish Pizza, Found in Translation

If it hadn’t been for David and Sandra, it’s pretty unlikely that Thursday’s taxi adventure would have led to the restaurant that serves ekmek like they make it in Eren’s home village near Konya, Turkey.

The cabbie said he spoke English when we asked him to take us to his favorite place to eat – and he agreed to be filmed along the way for a story for Spiegel TV.

But after a couple of questions from me (How did you find this restaurant? What’s your favorite thing to eat there?), it was clear that we barely understood each other.

Eren met my gaze in the rear view mirror. We were lost. My words didn’t match his. A part of me panicked (There are other journalists in the car!). I could see the apologies in the cabbie’s eyes.

David and Sandra came to the rescue. Thanks to their English-to-German and German-to-English, we discovered that Eren has been driving a cab for two years. Despite working as a hotel restaurant manager for 15 years on the Turkish coast, his English wasn’t good enough to get a similar job in Berlin. He missed the beach and the sea in Turkey. He hated the traffic in Berlin. He wasn’t sure if he would stay, even though his wife’s family lives here.

“It depends on where we decide to send our kids to school,” he said. Where that happened is where he would ultimately end up. They still had a few years to figure it out.

We were heading for a Turkish restaurant in Neukölln when we got talking about Eren’s home town of Konya in central Turkey. He confessed that he missed his mother’s cooking (something his wife didn’t appreciate hearing at all). And he changed his mind about where he was taking us. We were now on our way to the only place in Berlin – according to the cabbie – that makes Konya etli ekmek, a rendition of ‘Turkish pizza’ that comes from his village.

Lahmajun, or what most people know as Turkish pizza, has its origins in Eastern Turkey, he told us. Pide, or etli ekmek, comes from Konya. The cabbie cracked a smile when we made it clear to him that we’d love to try it.

Not every cabbie is going to take the time to park his car, walk into the restaurant and order for you. But that's what Eren did. Even though he was fasting for Ramadan.

Eren parked the taxi in front of Konyali, turned off the car and led us into the restaurant. The manager greeted him with a smile, and he ordered for us: two Konya etli ekmeks (with beef and herbs), a Peynirli ekmek (with cheese and herbs) and künefe (You have to ask for this dessert at the beginning of your meal, the cabbie explained, as it takes them a while to heat it up).

Like a lot of the people in the neighborhood, Eren was fasting for Ramadan, so he didn’t order anything for himself. If it was torture for him to walk into the restaurant, inhale the perfume of the giant doner kebab in the window and watch the baker slide pide into the brick oven, he didn’t show it. After a few handshakes, a few photos and a few smiles, the soft-spoken cabbie was gone.

While we waited for our ekmek, David noticed the chandeliers overhead and the etchings of whirling dervishes on the wall, “I’m seeing this more and more in Berlin,” he said, “Turkish restaurants are going a little more upscale.” It’s a sign, he noted, that the Turkish community is getting more entrenched here, going beyond hole-in-the-wall doner kebab stands.

Konya etli ekmek (with beef and herbs) in the foreground and peynirli ekmek (with gouda cheese) in the back.

Still, our ‘pizzas’ were just 4 euros apiece. Thin-crusted, chewy and heat-blistered, they reminded me a little of a New York slice on the bottom.

But the top half was all Konya: minced, rare beef seasoned with thyme and sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley. I squeezed lemon over the whole thing, folded it in half, and sampled. Simple and brick-oven delicious, yes. But was ekmek so different from other Turkish pizzas I’ve tried? Not really.

I was less impressed with David’s gouda cheese ekmek – the cheese hadn’t kept the dough from drying out, and thyme – or some sort of exciting herb – was missing.

We washed our ekmeks down with ayran – slightly saltier than Hasir’s version of the yogurt drink, but still tasty and wildly complementary. Everyone except me was finished with their pizza when a server brought our künefe.

I told David and Sandra about the extraordinary künefes I’d tried at Hasir and Gel Gör, “It’s shredded filo with butter and honey, stuffed with Turkish cheese.” A near perfect dessert, I said: rich, sweet, and built on colliding textures.

In the end, Konyali’s version couldn’t really compare to the others. The cheese didn’t have the punch of Gel Gör’s, and it got lost in a thick layer of shredded filo, which didn’t have the crunch that made Hasir’s rendition so remarkable.

“Don’t make a decision about whether you like künefe based on this version,” I said. I think they were a little taken aback by my evangelism on behalf of the dessert. I glanced at the whirling dervish on the wall.

Etli Ekmek Salonu
Reichenberger Str. 10
10999 Kreuzberg Berlin
Tel. 030-690-04567

Note: Konyali has been open for just six months. During Ramadan, the restaurant is quiet at lunch time, but when people break their fasts after 8pm, the place gets packed. You may want to reserve or go early if you want to be sure to get a seat.

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  1. Mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about this meal… At least I’ll be in Ny next week…

    • there’s so much to make your mouth water in NY. the baklava at gulluoglu at 52nd/2nd, among hundreds of other things (i recommend it all the time, but it’s just so good!)
      have a great trip. and thanks for reading my blog.

  2. I´ll try this Etli Ekmek even today. It looks incredibly delicious and Kreuzberg is not far away from my home in Friedrichshain. Perhaps I´ll take a cab anyway. :-)

    This cab-guided journey through the world of cities “secret” gourmettemples is a wonderful idea. Thanks for that!

    • Thanks, Sarik!! Let me know what you think of the Etli Ekmek – and don’t forget the lemon…I hope you like it.

      • Konyali – what a charming place at the apart from that rarely pleasant area of Kottbusser Tor.
        Good news: My Etli Ekmek lookes exactly as on the pic on your blog. Actually they don´t make a difference between conventional customers like me and “celebs” accompanied by Spiegel Online-mates like you. :-)
        The Ekmek tasted really good an the waiter was very courteous.
        From now on, Konyali is a new hotspot for me, when I´m hungry in Kreuzberg.

  3. Hey,
    I like the concept a lot, keep up the great work =)

    Came here via SPON, the story was finally posted @ http://www.spiegel.de/reise/staedte/0,1518,714630,00.html

    • Hey back! I’m glad you like the idea. I was wondering what was going on with so many people visiting the blog today – thanks for letting me know. All the best, Layne

      • Hey,
        thanks for the quick reply. Really liked your small video pieces with “Ergan” & Ms. Zille. And I now feel inspired to test Kunefe some time. Your blog will be most useful to me for my next visit to these cities. :D

        P.S.: Regarding traffic, spiegel.de is the biggest webpage in Germany nowadays which isn’t run by a traditional web company:

        • Oh, I hope you try kunefe – it’s my new favorite dessert. I’m going to try to do more video – it’s a new thing for me, so it takes me a little while.

          • Ah, that sounds nice.
            I really like how the video captures your interaction with the drivers, their reactions. Like first contact, and then the journalistic approach.
            There are many, many webpages that review restaurants, so this distinction of meeting the person behind the tip/recommendation is really nice. Ms. Z’s English was great so naturally the conversation was on a different level then with Eren, where the Spiegel journalists joined you (and the translating part was cropped).

            Btw, love your camera,(got an Ixus 70 myself):D

          • Okay, you’re inspiring me to dig my video camera out again. Thank you again for your words. I agree with you: meeting the person behind the tip makes it much more interesting.

  4. Get hungry when i read it. Noticed me the adress. Thanks for your cool blog.

  5. Hi, I realy enjoyed reading this blog, I’m so hungry now but have to wait till midday break. Berlin is getting crowded with tourists at the moment, there are days when I walk to campus I don’t understand one word that is spoken, lots of spanish and greek. Just curious ..why did you choose Berlin? It seems the place to be for this years summer tourists.

    Last week I was standing in line at a kiosk with my friend to buy a pack of smokes and an american tourist wanted to pay with dollars, which weren’t accepted, the man got angry and said “why? i didnt have problems paying with dollars in other third-world countries too!?” the shop owner and us burst out laughing. That pissed him off even more. It made our day and we thought it was particularly funny because he got so lucky the shop owner spoke his language and was this friendly to explain and tell him the way to the nearest bank where he could change his dollars, still he walked away mambling something about racists and never going to europe ever again.

    Have a lot of fun and remember telling a cab driver to bring you to his/her favorite club when it’s night. Bar/Clubscene is spectacular in Berlin.

    • Hi Lisa – I hope you find something good to eat for lunch. Thanks a lot for your message.
      I chose Berlin because I wanted to see how the taxi adventures would work in a city that’s not necessarily known for its ‘food scene’. I also wanted to see if they could work in a place where I don’t speak the native language. So far, so good!
      As for your story at the kiosk: I’m embarrassed on behalf of my countryman. I hope you don’t draw too many conclusions about us based on someone who was obviously having a very bad day. Sigh.
      And thanks for the tip about the clubs – I know they’re legend here…

      • Heya.. no conclusions here. I just thought it was so funny because he realy did everything he could and the line wasn’t getting shorter while arguing with the dollar waving man. I see about the food-scene and I realy envy you that you can just talk to strangers that might even not understand I think I’d panic and run away.

        15 more minutes of lecture to go. My stomach just rumbled and the guy next to me gave me a funny look it’s so embarassing just because of your descriptions and fotos it’s all your fault!! (:

        • Oh, I can totally imagine the situation. Your story is still making me laugh.
          It’s taken me some practice to talk to strangers – I still get nervous and still feel some panic when we don’t understand each other, but it always works out. It’s amazing.
          I’m flattered that I made your stomach rumble. I must be doing my job.

  6. So, would you go and eat there again? Was it that good?

  7. I luv your website design, nice and clean!

  8. Ein Freund hat mir deinen Blog gerade empfohlen und dann hatte ich gedacht schaue ich doch einmal vorbei. Und ich muss sagen er gefaellt mir richtig gut, ich glaube er koennte zu einen meiner Stammblogs werden. Echt ein Interessanter Post und ich hoffe da bekomme ich noch mehr von zu Lesen. Danke !!